Mrs. Laning is a wife and mother in Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Walker, Michigan.

Some time ago, I attended a fiftieth wedding anniversary dinner celebration. There were many friends and family gathered in attendance to celebrate this occasion. Prayers, toasts, singing, and speeches all made for a memorable evening. One speech, in particular, recurs in my mind. This was during a lighthearted question-and-answer period, with the questions directed to the honored couple. Their son-in-law came with them to the microphone with written questions. Some were directed to the woman, and some to her husband. One question for the husband was, “What do you think has been the secret to your fifty years of marital success?” Without missing a beat, the husband responded, “Do what your wife tells you to do!” This, of course, brought uproarious laughter and even clapping. It was humorous to those who knew the couple, because they thought it somewhat accurately described their marriage. Maybe they were guiltily laughing at themselves, too. Like the old saying goes, there are three things the average young woman thinks about on her wedding day: the aisle (as in walking down the aisle), the altar, and him (her beloved groom). But, actually, it is “I’ll alter him!” When we hear these jokes we know they are not truly funny, for beneath their exterior is a story of untold misery wreaking havoc upon entire families.

Now, on the one hand, the Scriptures do not give license for husbands to be tyrants or to be abusive toward their wives. Rather, they are admonished to love them. There are many decisions the head of the household can trust his wife to make. “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil” (Prov. 31:11).

That being said, many a wife rejects the notion of submitting to her husband and convinces herself she knows a better way for a happy marriage and family. She finds her joy dependent on how successful she is at changing her husband. Is it not the height of foolishness and pride to call God a liar? Is not that what happens when we justify ourselves as we walk in contradiction to His law? That is what happens when a wife refuses to submit to her husband. That is what happens when a husband gives away his headship in order to preserve peace. But God will not be mocked. When husbands and wives do not honor the Scriptures, the very foundation of the home, church, and even civilization will surely crumble, leading to utter desolation.

God’s infallible Word teaches us how to build a strong, loving home, and how to avoid tearing it down. May we be builders “like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel” (Ruth 4:10). In God’s inscrutably perfect plan for families, He commands wives to submit to their husbands in all things lawful.Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” The word “sub” in submission means “under.” So the word means to put yourself under someone else’s authority. This pleases the Lord, for it is a beautiful picture of the church submitting to her Bridegroom, Christ. Ephesians 5:23 goes on to say, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.”

The fact is, without the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, it is impossible to be submissive. Only by His Spirit do we have the ability and proper motivation to do this. A true love for God and our spouse is the motive behind our submission. Love is paramount! In fact, if a woman does not obey her husband out of love, she is not truly submitting to him. We must pray for a loving heart. We must pray for stronger faith to give ourselves up more to our husbands. The prayer in our Lord’s Supper Form speaks beautifully of this truth. Although it is speaking of the marriage of Christ and His church, we can apply it to our marriages also. In this prayer, we ask the Lord “to work in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, that we may daily more and more with true confidence give ourselves up unto Thy Son Jesus Christ.” Just as a church on earth prays for grace to give herself up more to her heavenly Husband, so we as wives should pray for this regarding our husbands on earth.

A godly woman who is given wisdom will recognize the God-given office her husband holds. She will find that in the way of lovingly submitting to her husband, she receives many wonderful blessings from the Lord. Not that she submits in order to merit something with God. Rather, it is with a thankful heart that she does this by the grace of God. The following is a list of just three of many blessings a woman receives when she is truly submissive to her husband.

1. A submissive wife teaches her children the principle of submission. When children see her example, they will, in turn, recognize the importance of obeying the fifth commandment, by honoring those in positions of authority. Our daughters, by God’s grace, will grow up to be God-fearing, submissive wives, like their mothers. There are many ways in which a wife and mother can show her children that she honors her husband: find opportunities with the children to talk about how godly their father is; spend time explaining the importance of his office as head of the home; pray together for him; bring up examples of how he denies himself for the sake of the family and church; talk about the biblical truths he holds dear; resist the temptation to put him down, especially in front of the children, since this will only undermine his authority in their eyes. Even a wife with an unbelieving husband can speak positively of her spouse, pointing out his God-given position of authority in the home and how he diligently works to provide for the family. In this way the children will also see how God causes their father’s love for their mother to grow when he sees his wife’s submissiveness.

2. A submissive wife is beautiful to her husband. This is a rare beauty our children learn to appreciate by our example. I Peter 3:4describes what is truly beautiful in a woman, “even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Sarah is given as one of the outstanding examples of such women. “Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well…” (I Pet. 3:6). This is a New Testament commentary on an event recorded in the Old Testament. That event was God’s telling Abraham that Sarah would have a son, and Sarah’s response to that news when she heard it. In Genesis 18:12 we read, “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, after I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” This is a significant passage, for it shows Sarah esteeming her husband inwardly. She called him “lord” silently to herself. Her submission was inward, not a mere outward show. Although wives today are not required outwardly to call their husbands “lord,” we are to esteem our spouse highly inwardly, mindful of his honored headship. The more a wife esteems her husband inwardly, the more her husband will be attracted to her, and love her. This leads to a beautiful upward spiral in marriage. The more the wife submits, the more the husband is attracted to her and loves her. And the more her husband loves her, the more she desires to submit to him.

The opposite happens when a wife does not submit inwardly. Her husband will sense she looks down upon him, and therefore he will not feel as close to her. If this keeps up, the wife will become angry with her husband’s withdrawn manner. Then the husband will become angry, because the wife does not show him honor as she ought. Downward plunges this bitter spiral in marriage, with worse sins committed as time goes on, consequently leading the children to stumble as well. Certainly we must never allow this to happen. In such a situation a godly wife will not insist that her spouse show love and forgiveness to her first. Love does not behave this way, for Christ loved us when we were not at all lovable, nor beautiful.

3. A submissive wife finds life. Matthew 10:35says, “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” This is happiness. When we stop living for ourselves and rather live for Christ by giving ourselves to our husbands, how truly liberating this is. It is selfishness that is bondage. Both Hannah and Mary sing an inspired song in the Scriptures that has a parallel idea to this. These women humbly praised God for exalting those who are of low degree (I Sam. 2:7, 8Luke 1:52). This is a precious promise of the Lord to all believers who humble themselves in this life. As we think of the life of Jesus during His earthly sojourn, this promise was His own. We can sing with confidence in the Lord, that “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory” (I Sam. 2:8). If we exalt ourselves and insist on our own way, God will bring us down. If we humble ourselves and submit to our husbands, God will raise us up.

When we as wives submit to our husbands, and thus to God, our heavenly Husband will grant us joy. We are to teach this to our children, so that they, too, will believe and confess that wifely submission is honoring to the Lord and good for all His people.